150 Degree Scooting

Spring outings are fraught with climate uncertainty. A couple of years ago we set out in the most questionable environmental conditions imaginable. Even the weather girl advised not to open the door to let the cat in – such was the formidable conditions. We had been watching the forecast carefully through the preceding days of our Spring overnighter to Marulan and thankfully were greeted with a complete lack of rain. Wish I could say the same for the wind! Woefully wild and wooly.

Even to get to this stage was a bit of a pill.

Traditionally, the Swarm (our very excellent Canberra Vespa Club) trundle out to the tiny township of Binalong in NSW to usher in the slightly warmer weather of Spring. On our previous visit – the day of vengeful weather – the club felt a distinct lack of respect from our hosts at the Binalong Hotel and resolved that in 2011, another small country pub would be graced with our presence. Such is the honour of hosting the Swarm! Crookwell got the nod that year and much fun was had by all – especially Bruce and Luke. Bruce personally gave Carlton & United Breweries’ profit margin a sizeable nudge and Luke set about attracting the attentions of the most voracious cougar the town had to offer.  He barely got away alive (and unmarried). In 2012, the township of Boorowa was to be our destination but alas, circumstances conspired against us and all available accommodation was filled. Some frantic phone calls to other candidates turned up nothing suitable. It seems that NSW country pubs are doing just fine thanks. Wanting to be a good team player, I jumped on the phone to the Terminus Hotel in Marulan which had been in the back of my mind since a quick pop-in we made on trip back from the Southern Highlands last year. With only five rooms, accommodation was limited but given this year’s diminished number of attendees, it turned out to be right on the money. So – Marulan. Yep. Marulan.

To most people, Marulan is the ‘place’ that has a petrol station and roadhouse on the side of the Hume Highway. But there’s actually a town hidden away just to the west of  the Hume. It has one very cool feature – but more of that later.

Was I dribbling about some wind or something? It was windy and uncomfortably so. Vespas are light and when it starts to get blowy, riding gets less and less fun because so much energy is spent just staying in a straight line. Add to this our route through eucalypt lined roads, which keeps your eyes constantly scanning for falling branches, and it makes for some unhappy scooting. But whatever – it’s scooting so it’s fun!

We have a great route to Marulan that runs from Watson in the ACT, to Bungendore, Tarago, Bungonia and then a very short stint on the Hume to bring us to the town.

About to launch

We welcomed new Swarmer from Wagga Wagga – Bucko – who arrived on his blinged-up PX150 Nuovo complete with Australian, Thai and Italian flags! Very cool. The group was rounded out by Chris, Nicky, myself, Nikki, Steve, Bruce and Swarmleader Bill who was just joining us for the ride to Tarago and lunch. I wish I could say the ride from A to B was an enjoyable one but I must admit that I was glad to be in Marulan and off the scoot. Bleh.

The Terminus Hotel was promising. A slow combustion stove and a small crowd. The Scottish barman (who moved to Marulan for a girl – who then gave him the flick) was entertaining and attentive. The rooms were clean but a little on the cold side. The night carried on like so many have before – beer, food and serious scooter-related conversation. A promotion on the door promised some live entertainment provided by ‘Sneaky Pete’, who didn’t show up. Instead, some bloody awful karaoke ensued which rolled out all the favourites. When I say favourites, not our favourites, but someone’s favourites.

Bunch of posers

So it was that we greeted Sunday morning free of hangovers so I’m not sure if we can say that our night had been a cracking success. It was nice not to feel like a piece of crud for a change but I still reckon something was missing. I quickly forgot my disappointment when I sipped the coffee at the Meridian Cafe. The best I have had in a long time. As the rest of the team joined us, we ordered breakfast and eventually tucked into a really tasty feed. Top notch. A fellow ACT biker joined our table and quickly got on the outside of a very wicked looking piece of sponge cake. We’ll be back to sample that one! But seriously, the Meridian just might be our regular stop on the way home from Sydney now. Yum!

So this brings me to the very cool Marulan fact. The picture will explain all…..

A unique place

To geocachers, this spot is extra special. So Marulan meridian life is good. We also explored the town’s heritage trail and the local craft store. Nikki bought her niece a hand knitted hot air balloon mobile that just a bit cute. Others stocked up on some home made jams and lemon butter all sold with plenty of smiles and thank yous from the volunteer ladies.

The weather for Sunday’s ride home to Canberra was pretty much perfect. Sun, sun, sun but not hot, hot, hot. A quick diversion had us scooting to nearby Tallong and its idyllic patch of national park overlooking the Shoalhaven River. It seemed like nothing could spoil such a beautiful riding day. Enter the Monkey Bike. Monkey Bike is Bruce’s seemingly indestructible ’63 VBA. Nikki reported hearing some loud pops early in the ride home but he still seemed to be scooting along just fine. I had decided to ride ahead to take on some corners I’m fond of only to be caught by Nikki later on with the report that Monkey was in trouble. Reluctance to start, go and keep going. That’s my technical explanation anyway. We decided to ride on to Tarago and await the arrival of the rest of the group. We were actually pretty confident that all would be fine. Chris, Steve and Bruce have plenty of two-stroke knowledge between them. After we had downed a coke, hidden a geocache and chatted to some passers-by, it was getting obvious that all was not fine. I jumped back onto Giorgio and headed off in the direction we had come. I found the group only five minutes up the road standing around Monkey Bike scratching their heads. No matter how much he was coaxed he refused to start.

Takes a licking and keeps on ticking – sometimes

An agreeable grazier agreed to let Bruce wheel the Monkey onto his driveway while he got dinked back to Canberra to fetch Chris’ ute for recovery duties. Hard luck Bruce. Monkey Bike was rescued later that evening.

Bungendore marked our scatter point as some headed for the Queanbeyan route to Canberra and the rest of us (Bucko, Steve, Nikki and myself) made a bee line for the Federal Highway just north of the Capital. Again, just stunning riding conditions. And so it was over. I really don’t see us returning to Marulan for an overnight run but I’m glad we’ve ticked it off the list anyway. Next year we definitely need to get ourselves sorted earlier!

Here’s all our photos from the weekend.

Ciao!

Captain’s Flat Revisited

I can’t remember exactly when it was that we did our little Sunday day-trip to Captain’s Flat but I do remember that we thought it would be an ideal destination for a mid-Winter run with the Swarm. Nikki and a few others had raised the topic on the club’s forum and at a meeting and our figure head, Swarmleader Bill, ran with it and made the arrangements.

We gathered at Motorini quickly turning Michael’s workshop from a serene place of maintenance zen into a frenetic chook shed. We all ran about checking tyre pressures and tweaking this and that. Nikki jumped on the espresso machine and made sure everyone was well and truly pepped up for the cold ride ahead. Nico couldn’t leave with main group as he had to wait for some interstate customers to show up. The rest of us, however, mucked in with the traffic and headed east to Queanbeyan.

Unfortunately, Bill’s usually reliable Rally 200 didn’t make it out of the ACT without a quick roadside repair. It seems that his very technical blu-tac spark plug retaining system had failed him and would need some minor  action. With this sorted, the group buzzed through to Queanbeyan and beyond.

Turning south from the King’s Highway shortly after Queanbeyan, the Swarm were now rattling along the stretch to Captain’s Flat. The two Nikkis (Nikki and Nicky) were in front of me and I could see them gesturing towards Bill’s Rally. It was then I spotted his number plate hanging precariously by one bolt. The plate flew off on a sweeping right-hander and those following quickly pulled off to retrieve it. Nikki went for a little run back up the road to make the grab while Bill, accompanied by Steve, sped off oblivious to what had happened. Several kilometres later, we came across Bill and Steve waiting for us and wondering where we’d got to. Nikki brought Bill up to speed and the tools came out again.

Bill’s Roadside Scooter Servizio

Some creative action was taken here including some clever use of a scrap of fencing wire and the redistribution of the failed spark plug blu-tac. Thankfully, we only had about 10km to run because the temporary repair was beginning to go awry after only a few kilometres of bumpy country road.

Our arrival in Captain’s Flat went largely unnoticed. A group of trailbikes were already parked outside the pub and the scoots went a long way in improving the streetscape as we pulled up next to them. The pub owners quickly got everyone sorted with room keys and it wasn’t long before we were all sitting in what was the Ladies Lounge in front of the fire with schooners all round. Bill was introduced to a local, Doug, who promised to meet up in his garage in half and hour to scrounge through his extensive nut and bolt collection for the just the right solution to Bill’s number plate (and luggage rack) issues.

Swarm Leader Bill contemplates making a donation of a Vespa rack to Captain’s Flat

Did I mention it was cold? It was cold. Not bitterly mind, but cold. The Swarm dutifully dealt with the situation in the usual fashion – more beer. Our hosts sorted us out with some lunch (but please don’t ask for salad because our daughter will have to drive to town to get some!) while we got busy with the fellowship and story telling. The rest of the day and the ensuing evening continued in the same way – interjected with a stroll about the town and checking out the action at the Bowling Club.

The next morning brought us together around the breakfast table. Again our hosts were on the spot with bacon, eggs, sausage, tomato and toast. A much needed fry up to stave off the encroaching hangovers. I had been in the back courtyard with Luke and Nikki prior to this to load up the scoots only to find that our seats were covered in a goodly amount of ice. The rather sage decision was made to move them around the front into some sunshine. And so it was that our seats had dried and the machines were champing at the bit to be ridden when we emerged from breakfast.

The warmest we would be today….

We pushed off at about 10-ish headed for Bungendore. The idea was to stop for coffee, cake and petrol before splitting up and heading home. If the day before was cold, then today was trying it’s best raise the ante. Our hands quickly became numb against a stern westerly wind. Nikki got her first taste of leading the pack before the turnoff to Bungendore. This tickled her fancy just a little bit! The Bungendore stop was a mixed success. The coffee, scones, muffins and raisin toast were delicious and generous – unfortunately, the petrol station was undergoing some modifications. Some thirsty scoots peeled away from the town headed for destinations various.

A great weekend! Thanks to Swarmleader Bill for the organisation and everyone else for making it a fantastic experience.

Here’s some more photos for your viewing pleasure.

Kiama Karma

Okay so it’s been a while. Turns out that regular blogging requires a certain level of discipline that we don’t yet possess. We’ll try our best to correct this.

We’ve done a couple of trips since our last entry and there’s been some mechanical dramas as well. So let’s get down to it with the story of trip #1.

Back in March (17-18) the Swarm set about heading north east to join up with our Shoalhaven and Illawarra members for an all-inclusive overnighter. The route was one of our favourites – Bungendore, Tarago, Bungonia, Marulan, Southern Highlands, Kangaroo Valley, Berry and finally Kiama. Only two riders left Canberra followed by two cars. Nicky and Nikki were forced to drive which neither enjoyed but extenuating circumstances demanded it be so. Chris and I straddled the ponies and gave them the whip the whole way. The only regular rider missing was Steve who was unable to attend owing to some last minute weekend work commitment. He was sorely missed.

Wet weather threatened as we approached Fitzroy Falls and it was here that we met up with our coastal friends Scott and Dave who had made the trip from separate approaches. We all explored the antique store for a while before saddling up once more to slowly descend through the slippery corners into Kangaroo Valley. We regrouped at Berry after having had several near misses, slips and slides on Kangaroo Valley Road. It was in Berry that we met up soon-to-be-Vespa-owner Luke (aka Luke Cougarwalker) who arrived on his V-max and then promptly lost his house keys.

With the group now complete, we trundled up the coast to our destination – the Grand Hotel Kiama. After finding rooms and laughing at the absurdity of Scott’s bed the group set off in search of a thirst quencher. This took way way way too long and I can’t actually remember where we ended up. Oh wait, it was the local leagues club. Coincidentally, it was St Patrick’s day and the club was running a special on Guinness. Nikki furnished me with the dark brew and the nattering began. It had been a while since we’d caught up with Scott and Dave (September last year) so it was good to finally be relaxing. It was here that Scott decided he needed green beer. Luke, being the generous soul he is, furnished him with same – lager generously laced with Midori. Scott was so taken aback by this act of selflessness that he was heard to utter, “F*** off! I’m not drinking that!” What a champ. To be fair, he managed to score a green beer later that he begrudgingly downed.

Green beer for the green goblin

The middle pub in town was next on the agenda and somehow we managed to jag some seating in the very trendy VIP area – yeah, we’re players. Here we were joined by more friends – Illawarra Swarmer Jason with partner Rob and ‘Crazy’ Ben from Picton. More beers, snacks and serious scooter discussions ensued. Before long (I think) we headed back up the road to a Chinese restaurant opposite the leagues club. Yet more friends arrived and we were joined by Dave’s wife Carrie and son Jonno. Many Tsing Tao arrived followed by food I don’t remember. I’m pretty sure I had a spring roll though.

Back to our accommodation and the final pub for the evening. The place was filled with locals and so it was that we found ourselves in the zer bier garten sinking schooners and laughing at the cougars. There’s only so much that leopard print can do. We made some not so subtle attempts to catch them on film in their natural environment.

Another dawn and another morning after. Sore heads and bleary eyes. It’s always at this point that we decide on an adventurous route home. It wasn’t too adventurous really, just up through Jamberoo, Robertson – making a bee-line for the Hume boring-way. A stop for tea at the Marulan Service Centre was less than successful. Seriously, the businesses here need to sort their stuff out. ‘Service’ is last thing they provide. The wind had whipped up and Chris and I struggled a bit after joining the Federal Highway. Nikki mentioned later that she had seen us wobble around a bit as she followed in the chase car. If only we’d known how windy it was going to be in a few week’s time when we’d be on this road again, our appreciation for the favourable conditions may have been higher.

All in all, a great scooting weekend with the crew. Enjoy the pics!

Aye Aye Captain!

Another Sunday and another destination for the Swarm. This time it was a relatively short cruise out to Captain’s Flat about 40km to the South East of Queanbeyan in New South Wales. We had resolved to meet up at the Tulip Cafe at Pialligo for a spot of breakfast and a yarn before hitting the road. Nikki and I thought we may have reached our bacon quota for the weekend having spent Friday night devouring curries and lager with Swarming friends Chris and Nicky, only to be followed by a superb fry up the following morning. I was nursing a particularly nasty hangover which even the baked beans could not ply out of my scone.

Before leaving the house, I gave the scoots a quick going over with the hose and some suds. Embarrassingly, I hadn’t washed them since we got back from the epic trip down South so they were well overdue. The short trip down Majura Road to Pialligo was uneventful which is in stark contrast to our morning commute down this same stretch. No trucks or other people desperately racing to work to grab a parking spot.

Scoots @ Tulips

Pialligo houses most of Canberra’s nurseries – a couple of which have natty little cafes. As we pulled into the carpark, the cafe was completely empty and we thought that we’d get some pretty swift service. Within five minutes, the place was full! Strangley, our meals all came at different times which stretched out our stay to and hour and a half. The food was okay but I’m not sure if we’ll go back. With most of needing fuel, we belted over to the airport to fill up. Bill – having gotten his 1964 Vespa 150 going – decided to continue on and let us catch him after gassing up. It wasn’t until we were 20km out of Captain’s Flat that we finally happened across him again.

What can I say about Captain’s Flat? It’s quiet – eerily quiet. A small dog greeted us as we pulled up in town and gave us all a good sniffing before belting off to explore the neighbourhood. Nikki and I went and found a cache while Swarmer Steve did a quick recce of the town on his scoot. He returned and reported that he had found the pub. That was the news we were hoping to hear and a few minutes later the scoots were parked out the front. The friendly publican greeted us and poured a few schooners. He gave us a quick tour of the grand old pub which boasts the longest bar in the Southern Hemisphere. It was quite impressive though the pub’s glory days are long behind it now that the local mine is closed.

Scoots @ Captain's Flat

The Swarm is always looking for new locations and these old pubs are usually the kind of thing we look for. I have a feeling we’ll be back for a mid-winter run. Another great destination and another reason to saddle up the ponies. Sweet!

Coastal Swarming

For anyone who lives in Canberra, we know that the warm weather is fleeting. So we try to squeeze in as much Summer fun as we can – and that means scooting!

The Swarm have collectively decided to hit the coast and will be heading for Kiama in mid March. Dave (aka Billy Goat) did some superb scouting for us and rode from his home on the South Coast up to Kiama to scope out some possible accommodation options. With that decided, the rest was easy!

When I first got my scooter, I was wary of Nico’s assurances that the coast was well within reach of my bike. It wasn’t until my very first overnight run with the Swarm (not to the coast – but to Binalong) to realise that I could really go anywhere. Longer distances, however, are so much better with a group. Few things give me greater joy than sitting at the back of a long line of scooters as we head out on the open road. Bogans shake their heads at us, older gents remember some fun times from their youth and little kids laugh and wave. I always have a smile on my face.

The route for the trip is yet to be discussed but I’m going to hazard a guess that we’ll start – as we so often do – at the Shell petrol station in Dickson. Then it will be out on the highway to the Macs Reef Road turnoff to head onto Bungendore (where the two-strokes will refuel for the next push) and then Tarago. A quick regroup in Tarago will get the group back together before picking up the road to Windellama and Bungonia – a couple of little hidden NSW gems. This route will have us pouring out onto the Hume Freeway at Marulan and another fuel stop for smaller scoots. I’ve said before that I detest the Hume – nothing has changed. Fortunately, we have figured a decent set of roads that barely touches the boring boring Hume. From Marulan to the Bundanoon turnoff is all we do. After that, it’s a series of small towns in the Southern Highlands before plunging down the Great Dividing Range through Kangaroo Valley.

Scoots out and about in Mittagong

Then it’s onto either Bomaderry or Berry to join up with Billy Goat before the final push to Kiama.

Can’t wait.

Sunday Swarming

So I had a good idea through the week to go for a Sunday ride. We weren’t too sure how many Swarmers (Swarmisti?) would be around because of the long weekend, but surely someone other than us would be keen… There are five of us who manage to get away on rides most often (I don’t know Italian, but lo sciame cinque??? thanks google translate, I’m sure that makes perfect sense). Anyway, Chris, Nicky, Steve, Morgan and I met up at Dickson Shell to head to Gunning for lunch.

Gunning is a 63km ride from Dickson, through Sutton, Gundaroo and Bellmount Forest. It was a beautiful day, even though it was hot (top temp in Canberra was 30.5 today) and it was pretty good riding weather. The road is pretty good – a fair few spots are covered in patched potholes, which we just rode around. It was a little windy, but nothing that we haven’t experienced before. Also – there was not a lot of other traffic on the road which was great. But there are always a lot of bikes out on this road and today was no exception.

We had great plans for a pub lunch, but when we got to Gunning the pub only has Chinese – Nicky was very quick to say this was not going to happen (v. fair call) so we only used the pub for a refreshing beer. Also, Gunning has markets on the last Sunday of the month, so we had a bit of a browse before heading to the Merino Cafe for lunch. Given the cafe’s name, I guess it makes sense that lamb featured prominently on the menu. Chris had the Merino breakfast (all day breakfast – support) which came with a lamb chop and Steve had lamb chops. Nice. Morgan, Nicky and I had burgers which were great. Although they didn’t leave room for scones, what a shame. Maybe next time we will head out for afternoon tea… We also discussed a monthly Sunday ride – either the first or last Sunday of the month. Not huge undertakings, but just a ride away with the Swarm to find new roads and places and revisit old favourites.

The Swarm traditionally ‘meets’ on the last Tuesday of each month at All Bar Nun at the O’Connor shops. We knew that ABN was closing, but no one was sure of when.  So we decided that as well as being good Swarm riders, we would also been good Swarm researchers and go and see what the deal was. We arrived at ABN and it was packed and the band was loud. Yep – today was the last hurrah. So we grabbed drinks and found the only free table in the back corner. We decided that we would need to work out a new monthly meeting place at this week’s meeting, so our interim venue for Tuesday night is PJ O’Reillys in Civic. We talked about the Durham, but its trivia night on Tuesday night. Suggestions? PJs is going to be fine, Chris and I are both already planning to have the Tuesday special – schnittys. So farewell to ABN for the Swarm.

Home Stretch

Day 17 – Wagga Wagga to Canberra

The day was here – but sad to say that we weren’t looking forward to it that much. The weather outside did not look promising and the radar pictures on the web looked even more foreboding. We resolved to let things take their course while we ate breakfast in the main street. The cafe recommended to us was very much closed so we found ourselves once more in the Coffee Club – or as we call it, The Cluuuurrrrrb.

Outside the Cluuurrrrb

We had planned on this day to do a long way home – via the Snowy Mountains Highway and then north from Cooma. We were both keen for the corners and scenery but as it turned out, the weather was not on our side. Doing mountain corners in the wet takes away all the enjoyment.

And so it was that we farewelled Wagga Wagga to make the final trek home. The highway was thankfully quiet. I guess there weren’t a lot of people visiting Wagga this weekend. With only a relatively short stretch to ride until Gundagai, we took our time and enjoyed the scenery so familiar to us now – rolling hills filled with grazing sheep or cows. With music playing in my helmet I hunkered down for what is for me a very boring ride. Nikki loves this rural scene as I’ve said before so she was really enjoying it.

On joining the Hume (yawn) once more, I called Nikki and just groaned – I must have been a barrel of laughs to be with! Then we started to see them. Bogans, tons and tons of bogans. It had occurred to me the night before that we would be heading back home on the final day of Summernats and I couldn’t have been happier. I know lots of people get a kick out it but I personally would love to see the whole thing collapse in on itself. How much does a small tactical nuclear device cost anyway? That being said, I appreciate the time and effort that some people put into making their car look really good – it’s a passion that I understand all too well. What I don’t need is to see them burning through a set of tyres in 8 seconds while some bimbo jumps around without her top on. Honestly, I’d rather cut my own leg off.

We copped a little bit of rain once on the Hume but not that much. All in all we were very fortunate but still had flashbacks to last year when were destroyed by a storm coming in from the south. We made the fatal mistake of stopping at the Maccas near Yass for a coffee break. The Summernats traffic was immense and the place was packed – I mean PACKED. We found a small table to ourselves and I went to order the coffee which, rather surprisingly, came very quickly. We couldn’t get over the vast variety of people streaming through the doors. Every kind of mullet and blue singlet you’d every want to see.

The Barton Highway came and went in a flash, so it seemed. The scoots could smell home so we gave them their head. It seemed that no sooner had we crossed into the ACT that we were dealing with idiots on the road again. I could go on – and often do.

It was a great feeling to pull into our little laneway and an even better feeling to discover that the garage door still worked. We hugged and felt like we had really achieved something great. Here’s a little summary:

Barton Highway

Hume Highway

Bass Highway

Midlands Highway

Lake Leake Road

Tasman Highway (and back again)

Lake Leake Road (again)

Midlands Highway (again)

Bass Highway (again)

Princes Highway

Great Ocean Road

Princes Highway

Henty Highway

Glenelg Highway

Maroona-Glenthompson Road

Pyrenees Highway

Calder Freeway

Midland Highway (in Vic, not Tas!)

Northern Highway

Cobb Highway

Riverina Highway

A bunch of NSW backroads – middle of nowhere!

Sturt Highway

Hume Highway (again)

Barton Highway (again)

All up – 2915km ridden on our ponies. Not bad I reckon.

We’ve decided to name our best/worse experiences for the trip. For me, the best was eating at the Royal Mail – an experience I won’t soon forget. My worse was being laughed at by that blonde idiot in the orange car. I hate that I’ve let it get to me but there you go.

Nikki’s favourite was also dinner at the Royal Mail – seriously people, you need to go there. Nikki really didn’t like the leap frogging trucks on the Hume and the oncoming cars in Tassie being on our side of the road.

We both feel really lucky to have been able to do this trip. We marvelled often while out and about that we were actually doing it – not talking about it. We’re proud of ourselves and proud to have shown the nay-sayers that it can be done – and done easily. To all those who think you need something with capacity of a Mack Truck do go touring – harden up – you’re not hard core.

Thanks to everyone who followed the blog for the trip! Click HERE to see today’s pics.

So good they named it twice

Day 16 – Echuca to Wagga Wagga

After a not so great sleep we were back on the road, this time with only tea and toast in our tummies. The Steampacket Inn was a B&B, however there was one large table in the dining room containing a family with three children and granny. Rory just would not sit on his chair and turns out his favourite word is “no”. Ezra (oh yes – Ezra) didn’t need any help with his breakfast, given he was like ten years old, although his annoying mother kept asking whether he needed help. So we skipped the cooked breakfast and got outta there.

After a quick stop at the tourist information centre for a stubby holder, 30 seconds later we were in New South Wales. I guess we hadn’t looked at the map that well because we didn’t realise that we were so close to the border. Now the cache we found last night called “Almost New South Wales” makes perfect sense! More fuel in Moama before we were properly on the road heading to Deniquilin. Oh wow – I can’t explain how excited I was to be going to Deniliquin. Deni is home to the Ute Muster which has got to be about as bogan as you can get. On the ride in to town, we passed like three utes in a row and I could not believe it. So exciting! We randomly passed a scooter on our way in to town, but he turned off the other way to us otherwise we would have somehow managed a photo with him. We definitely got a few stares in town, and shared a parking spot with a local rider who was heading to golf. He said “nice day for a ride”, we said “yeah, were headed to Wagga”, he said “not that nice”. In recent years, the Ute Muster has been host to Cold Chisel and Ice House! There is no need to book accommodation, just stay onsite – bring your van or tent! These fun facts are courtesy of eavesdropping at the visitor information centre. My main question was why on earth does the Deni stubby holder not have a ute on it?!?! It has rabbits on it – I didn’t understand at all and was pretty cut, but I got it all the same. I guess you would have to actually attend the muster to find the ute stubby holder. Not going to happen.

But back to the riding – this part of the country is called the Long Paddock. Add to this, with one straight road going through it. I think there were two slight bends (not corners) between Moama and Deni. Maybe. It was amazing to be out there, but the riding was certainly different to the rest of our trip. I finally learnt today where the best place on the road to be is when the road trains are coming past you. Too far to the left and there is a chance you will be blown off the road, too far the right… well I never went too far to the right! Pretty much sitting in the middle of your lane and hoping for the best seemed to be the right way to go. Some trucks made absolutely no impact, but others had me wobbling around for a few seconds once they had past. But you couldn’t pick which one would do which. So it was kinda like a game, but not a very fun one.

Our next stop was Finley where we fuelled up and managed to grab a geocache. Today was the hottest day of our trip so while we were at the garage having a cold drink I checked the phone and couldn’t believe a. that we had coverage and b. that there was a geocache less than 200m away. Yay for that. We made a quick find and then got back on the straight road heading to Urana. This was probably the most mindblowing part of our ride – it felt like we were truly in the middle of nowhere. In the proper outback. We hardly saw any other cars or trucks so we were on our own most of the time. The land was completely flat all around, just dotted with the odd farm here and there.  We arrived at Urana mid afternoon on a Saturday so weren’t sure what we would find in the way of food or fuel. Turns out there was no fuel but there was a ‘cafe’ open. We dined on crisps, drinks and iceblocks and had a bit of a chat to the shop lady. There were two tables of local teenagers just hanging out (well the girls were hanging out, the boys were eating hot chips, fish and spring rolls). I wanted to talk to them to see what it was like living in Urana and what they did. Morgan said we had seen what they did. Hang out. I wondered where they went to school and if they did anything else. When we were leaving town the girls had left the cafe and waved to us, regret – I should have talked to them.

Where are we?

My main goal today was to stay off the major highways and use some back roads. Once we were on one of these back roads heading towards Lockhart, I started to get worried that I would run out of fuel. Where on earth were we going to get fuel out here? The signs were saying 108km to Wagga and I was assuring Morgan over the headset that I would make it. But I was not 100% confident. I slowed down to ride between 80-90km/hr, trying to use as little fuel as possible (with the Malossi variators, the scoots definitely seem a little more thirsty).  But I was worried. As we got closer to Lockhart I was relieved to see signs for a roadhouse, but still a little concerned that it might not be open. Turns out – it was open! Phew! Unfortunately the guy behind the counter (yes I spotted a Harley in the garage when I went to use the most disgusting bathroom in THE WORLD) was a complete tool. I always expect that people in these little towns will be friendly and interesting and I am then always disappointed when they turn out to be the exact opposite of this. Oh well, the fuel was good and we set out for the last leg of our journey today feeling more at ease and happy.

Wagga was just as I remembered. It was my task to get us to our accommodation and I was a complete fail with navigation. Because of this, Giorgio’s fan started working overtime trying to keep his engine cool. It really was such a hot day and we were so ready for a shower and some aircon. Finally we made it to our room and we tamed cold showers and cold aircon. Next step in the happy process was beers, pizza and geocaches, which were all found in quick succession. Turns out Wagga has lots of caches in close proximity which we found all too easily. We tipsy walked around town until it was back to our room for blogging and logging. This was our last night away on our trip and of course the weather forecast for the next day showed rain and storms for both Wagga and Canberra…

Click HERE to see today’s pics.

Of poor but honest parents, he was born in…

Day 15 – Dunkeld to Echuca

OK, so I have got a little emotional twice on this ride – once on the Great Ocean Road, because I couldn’t believe that it was the first time I was there. And also because I was so happy that I was there with that person, on that scooter, on that day. The second time was when we turned north/north-east from Glenthompson. The view was incredible – the Grampians and proper Victoria. At one point I looked to my left and saw a beautiful paddock which had been turned in to haybales. There was a huge dam and brown sheep and the Grampians were rising in the background. I was stoked to be there and loving every second of it.

Our first stop today was Ararat for fuel and stares from the locals. Also a coffee stop at Maccas (wow – how many Maccas did we get coffee at?!?) which again we couldn’t get on to the network. Give us some network Maccas – that is what you are good for! Oh well, back on the road and we were intrigued to ride through a place called ‘Ampitheatre’. What? Why is it called Ampitheatre? Is there actually an ampitheatre? We didn’t see it. Googling must occur once we are home methinks.

Then, turns out there is a place in Victoria called Maryborough (as well as Queensland). I was expecting just another fuel stop with a pub, but turns out this place was huge! But I think I still prefer the Queensland option! But that is natural given I am a Queenslander. Queenslander! Our lunch stop today (a very late lunch) was at Castlemaine. I was so excited to be here because I had sung the song so many times in primary school. As we rocked in to town, Morgan made communication with me and sung the song – as well as giving me some fun facts about Castlemaine. We rode through town and then back again to try and find somewhere nice to eat. Well, we found it. Its called Cured Cafe and we had awesome turkish – Morgan a doner lamb meal with garlic sauce, dips and salads; I had a falafel kebab with garlic sauce, hommus and salad. I thought their coffee was awesome, but Morgan didn’t rate it. Doesn’t matter, it was a fantastic meal, which we were surprised to find in Castlemaine.

Our next surprise was finding ourselves back on a freeway. For some reason we thought we were on kinda backroads today but it made perfect sense that there would be a motorway linking Melbourne and Bendigo… So Bendigo, awesome – we will be back. We didn’t stop because it was getting late in the day and we wanted to push to Echuca, but turns out the place is chock full of cacher hides which we NEED to find – as I said, we will be back. We spotted a couple of scooters, one parked up on the footpath as it should be.

So on to Echuca, turned out we were staying in the ‘Historic Port’ area of town and the place I had chosen was next door to both an icecreamery and a chocolate shop. Unfortunately we were too late for the chockie shop but the icecream turned out to be our dinner later that night. We did a bit of walking, enjoyed local beers and did our heads in trying to find a 4* difficulty geocache which was in a heaps public place with a very very awesome bit of camo. Once we had finally tamed it, we spent more time walking around the area finding other caches and learning about all the history. And trying to avoid being pooed on by the myriad birds – corellas and about one million of them. Then the icecream and back to our room to try and blog (fail) or log cache finds (fail) and sleep (fail). Staying in the historic port area of town on a Friday night, in such an old building, on the ground floor meant a very noisy time with drunks and holiday makers staying up very late. No matter – our room was cute and quaint and the shower was good so we were happy. Oh – the local beer was really good. Its called the Echuca Brewing Company and we sampled the Paddlesteamer Premium Lager and Murray Classic Gold – delicious!

The 1st Choice for Annoying Families

Tomorrow, on to Wagga Wagga. Ciao!

Click HERE to see today’s pics.

Where On Earth Is Dunkeld?

Day 14 – Port Fairy to Dunkeld

After a fine breakfast in Port Fairy it was back on the road again heading ever westwards – but not too far. Our plan today was to follow the Princes Highway to where it kinks north near the town of Portland. We picked up a cache or two on the way meeting up with some fellow hunters near Portland itself.

We spotted them approaching the likely position for the hide. When they spotted us coming near them they quickly hid the cache from view until I said, ‘Have you found it for us?’ We got talking after each signing the log from the cache. It turns out that they were from Sydney and a Navy family – what are the odds?

This area is, as you might imagine, very rural. It looks like they’d had a good season too as the the hay sheds were packed to the rafters. We made a quick stop in very small village called Stalkers Bend. We parked the scoots on the grass next to what was once the town’s pool. It was a part of the creek in which they’d installed a small dam. The edges and base of the ‘pool’ had been concreted and even a small area had been fenced off. It had all fallend into disrepair after decades of neglect but we were struck by how simple and charming the whole set up was. Three very large pines had once stood near the bank to shade the pool but they had been cut down. One remained on the opposite bank so we got am idea of what it must have been like.

The Pool at Stalkers Bend

On the road again, we tracked north to Hamilton for a lunch stop. After gassing up the scoots, we found a shady spot to park them while we fuelled ourselves up. Hamilton is a nice looking town which I’m guessing is about the size of Queanbeyan. We tried to get a couple more caches while there but failed on both attempts. In any case, the journey today was not our primary focus – it was the dinner we were looking forward to.

Dunkeld was our destination and it was but a short hop away.

We had properly turned the corner to head east now. To our left, Mount Sturgeon marked thhe sourthern tip of the Grampian Ranges. It’s an oddly shaped mountain – one end pushed from the ground while its western foot remained firmly in place as if the whole thing was on a hinge. Dunkeld itself was like the other small Victorian hamlets we had come across. Neat little gardens, turn-of-the-century cottages, closed businesses and the ubiquitous memorial swimming pool.  We pulled into the car park of the Royal Mail Hotel leaving the scoots on the footpath outside the reception desk. We waited for what seemed an age for a chatty American couple to stop chewing the ear off the receptionist before getting our room key. Our accommodation – it turned out – was actually across the road from the hotel. The back yard of one the town’s larger houses had been built out with hotel rooms all constructed in a similar vein to the parent house. Now – we had reserved a ‘cheap’ room, but it was the nicest cheap room I had ever clapped eyes on! We had paid the same money for a much lesser appointed room in Port Fairy that wasn’t a shadow on this place! We unloaded the bikes and emptied ourselves into the room, spreading out like we had just unpacked a Land Rover rather than two little scooters.

The Royal Mail Hotel is a bit of an oddity. The pub itself has been around since the 1800s but some years ago, an aspiring chef returning to Australia decided to build his restaurant on the spot and converted the plot to construct a large hotel, native gardens, the public bar, a bistro and the restaurant dining room. This is all topped off by an amazing menu and what Gourmet Traveller magazine has judged to be the best wine cellar in Australia.

We had long planned to come here and it felt as this if this was the whole reason for our trip. We opted for the full tasting menu plus the matched wines. What followed was ten courses of rich and sumptious food each matched with either a French or Australian wine to compliment the dish. I won’t reproduce the menu here as I will dribble on for another thousand words. We heartily recommend that you come here yourself. Make it your holiday – you won’t regret it.

And so it was with full bellies that we departed the restaurant for our comfy bed. I don’t think either of us will ever forget the meal we had in this place. The chefs (all on full display as they worked) prepared each plate with the same full attentiveness. The head chef inspected each and every plate that left the servery – often making small changes to the presentation. It was this attention to detail, plus the unique blending of seemingly mismatched flavours that made this meal so special.

Tomorrow – the Murray River port town of Echuca. Ciao!

Clicke HERE to see today’s pics.